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Philippines faces HIV surge with new strain

MANILA, PHILIPPINES (ANN/PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER) – The number of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) cases in the Philippines has almost doubled this year, with nearly half of them affecting teenagers. This surge is potentially linked to a newly identified strain of the virus.

According to the most recent data, Philippines Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa revealed on Tuesday that daily HIV infections have risen to around 50 new cases, up from last year’s daily average of 22.

A significant portion of those impacted are individuals aged 15 to 24, constituting 47 per cent of the cases, Herbosa added.

 “There’s a new subvariant that’s quite more infectious and this is the reason we’re finding this increase in cases,” he told reporters, citing infectious diseases specialist Dr Edsel Salvana.

“It’s been happening even before. We’re just detecting it (now) because we’re concentrated so much on COVID,” he said.

In 2022, a group of researchers led by Chris Wymant found that a new HIV variant called subtype B could cause a more severe infection and individuals hit by this strain may have “an average viral load about four times higher than usual,” according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Herbosa said on Monday that he had a meeting with Vice President Sara Duterte, who also heads the Department of Education, and that one of the topics they discussed was the rapidly growing number of HIV cases, specifically on the “interventions” to take in terms of health literacy.

“We forged a stronger collaboration (and) convergence between … on the efforts we will put for adolescent health,” he said.

He added other health issues they tackled were teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, mental health, and nutrition.

The Philippines has one of the fastest-growing HIV epidemics in the world dating back to 1984, UNAIDS said.

In 2017, the Department of Health declared the epidemic a national emergency because of the rapid rise of infections.

A photo of Philippines Health Secretary, Teodoro Herbosa. PHOTO: ANN/PHILIPPINES DAILY INQUIRER SOURCE